The Age of Tiptoeing

By: Ashley Jones

A New Age?

It’s a familiar social media storm: the summer’s biggest movie hits theaters. The crowd-dividing show airs its finale. In an instant, pop culture phenomena populates our timelines and web streams. Memes, excitement and backlash follow in a matter of minutes.

If you’re in PR, you know the effect well — for better or worse, it parallels reactions to brands and product campaigns. On more channels than any mere human can keep up with, ideas and opinions spread like wildfire. Just as quickly, they’re forgotten.

Things move so fast that “Age of Technology” no longer feels like a fitting title for the experience of communicating in today’s world. So, are we living in a new age?

Not the age of technology, but the age of tiptoeing?

Latest Victim: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones’ recent finale was met with overwhelming negativity from even its most dedicated, decade-long followers and devotees.

Prior to the finale, the show’s producers were the butt of a colossal online joke: trollers and casual onlookers alike spotted the infamous Starbucks cup in a scene of a broadcasted episode. It was a facepalm moment for the show’s video editors, yet the blunder resulted in “billions” of free PR and advertising for Starbucks as posts were shared and tweets retweeted hundreds of times across social platforms.

The show responded in a perfect manner, equal parts humor and GOT appeal: “News from Winterfell. The latte that appeared in the episode was a mistake. #Daenerys had ordered an herbal tea.”

While this may have been an embarrassing PR learning moment, it was a moment of humanity. An opportunity for fans of the show to have a little lighthearted fun.

But then, there was the response to the show itself.

After the finale aired, fans were up in arms — signing petitions, demanding the series be rewritten and scrutinizing the writers for rushing the final season.

When people care about something — a product, a company, a campaign or a dragon show — the emotional reaction is immediate. And thanks to social media, individuals can share those immediate reactions, well, immediately.

For those of us working in PR, this influx of emotional response can be overwhelming.  It raises questions:

  • How do we avoid these situations?
  • How do we handle these situations, when they arise anyway?
  • What do we do when a brand is, by no doing of its own, caught in the middle of the latest “outrage”?

What if?

Take Avengers: Endgame for example.

Before the film was even out, multiple brands had capitalized on its impending release, creating Avengers-related campaigns and ads.

The film was heavily anticipated, setting industry records left and right. And it brought fans to tears in theaters — mostly in a good way.

What if Avengers fans had reacted to the movie in the same manner as GOT fans? What if there were blunders? Upsets? Offenses? Would those      brands be associated with the negativity? Does the old saying, “Any press is good press” still ring true?

With audiences ready to immediately analyze, scrutinize and pick apart scene by scene, second by second on platforms where the information can spread to thousands in the time it takes to open a can of La Croix, it can feel like a tiptoeing game whose end goal is to not cause an uproar. While advertising and film have always required authenticity, thought, and discretion, do they require even more foresight than ever before?

These occurrences remind us as PR practitioners to:

  • Do the research – Know your demographics and the latest news in the industry.
  • Listen and take part in the conversations – Keep up with what your audience is thinking, saying and don’t be afraid to communicate with them.
  • Be genuine – Stay true to your brand, always.
  • Be prepared – Have a crisis communication plan in place, just in case.

As far as tiptoeing? The simple fact is it’s impossible to appease everyone.

Create good work that you’re proud of and stand by it. That may be a career-long challenge. But PR professionals like a good challenge, don’t we?

The Roast of Legendary Point Park Professor, Bob O’Gara

By: Courtney List

Who is Bob O’Gara?

Bob has been a full-time Public Relations and Advertising professor at Point Park University since 1993.  His dedication to the school started back in 1983 when he first became a member of the Pioneer community as a part-time professor.  Bob’s passion for helping students has shown throughout his career.  Bob served as the advisor to PRSSA and currently serves as the advisor to the Advertising Federation.  In addition, Pittsburgh PRSA sponsors the Bob O’Gara Scholarship Award to students at the annual Renaissance Awards.

What’s a Roast?

For Professor O’Gara’s retirement party, he requested that students and staff come together to roast him.  He wanted a fun celebration where students, faculty, family and friends could gather to roast, boast, and toast his career.  At the roast, PRSSA advisor, Camille Downing, and I had the honor of announcing the new name of our chapter which will now be referred to as, the Bob O’Gara Chapter of PRSSA at Point Park University.

His Legacy.

Bob O’Gara has been one of the most influential professors I have ever had.  When I was a senior in high school, I had strong interest in pursuing a career within Public Relations and Advertising.  I visited 18 universities, and I chose to attend Point Park because of Bob and how dedicated he was to helping his students succeed.  I would not be the student I am today without the continued guidance I have received from Bob.

Thank you, Bob, for everything you have done for the Point Park community.  Your leadership and dedication have been second to none, and the School of Communication would not be the same without you.  As a university, we thank you for your continued support.


Courtney List is a senior Public Relations and Advertising major at Point Park University currently serving as the President of PRSSA and Assistant Firm Director of Bison Media.

When Public Service Makes a World of Difference (to YOU)

Written by: Jennifer Rignani, Co-Chair, NAMI Public Service Project, PRSA Pittsburgh

There are a lot of reasons people volunteer. Altruism, personal development, professional connections and community service among them.

But sometimes we give our time and talent because the opportunity is 100% aligned with everything we believe in, and to not step up would be a great loss. In a constellation of circumstances, such a chance came my way.

After a 15-year sabbatical from professional involvement with PRSA, I was thrilled to reignite my relationship by joining the board of the Pittsburgh chapter. My first task was to co-chair the Public Service Project (with Deanna Tomaselli) bringing structure and energy to this key initiative focused on providing an area nonprofit pro bono services. As a former “client-side” nonprofit marketing and PR practitioner, this was near and dear to my heart. After many years of being the respondent to RFPs, I was happy to help design one, distribute it and review the many worthy submissions we received with our committee.

CEOs Against Stigma

In the end, we selected the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Keystone Pennsylvania “CEOs Against Stigma” campaign. This further deepened my commitment, as the issues NAMI addresses are personally connected to people in my own life.

NAMI seeks to raise awareness and provide support and education for the individuals and families affected by mental illness. Through different programs, events and activities across the country, NAMI Keystone Pennsylvania works to break the stigma on mental illness. It’s hard to believe such a campaign is needed, but it is, and our chapter of PRSA will be providing pro bono public relations support to the organization until mid-2019.

Addressing Mental Illness in the Workplace

The goal of the CEOs Against Stigma campaign is to break the stigma of mental illness in the workplace. CEOs will pledge to educate themselves and employees about mental illness and how the stigma and silence affects workplace productivity.

A survey from 2014 conducted by NAMI Massachusetts found that out of the 800 registered voters, 17% said they knew of a co-worker who had a mental illness, but just 27% would advise someone with mental illness to tell their co-workers about it. The poll confirms that those who need help stay silent for fear of the consequences of their illness being disclosed in the workplace.

Getting the right information is the challenge of our time.

The reality and perception of mental illness is murkier than it should be. We are educated consumers when it comes to shopping and our own health. Our digital lives are constant, so getting information certainly isn’t elusive. But as we all know, getting the right information is the challenge of our time. To play a role in devising a strategic communication plan, which will include market research, marketing materials, social media, and media relations for “CEOs Against Stigma” is deeply gratifying. 

I expect to learn a great deal from this project. For NAMI Keystone Pennsylvania’s part, I feel as strongly about delivering an exceptional job to the organization as I have with any paid project. There’s a certain pride and pressure that accompanies volunteerism. Maybe it’s the issue we are addressing. Perhaps its that my peers on the board are sharp as tacks. Or it could be that after many years away from giving my time, I realize the gravity of the personal reward is truly great.

Learn more about CEOs Against Stigma.

All For Bud Light and Dilly Dilly For All

Written by: Jesse Serra

Our recent “Off the Clock Happy Hour” invited industry professionals to network and enjoy a presentation by special guest, Miles Ritenour, Director of Marketing Communications at Bud Light. The house was full of people hungry to learn (and eat pizza), not to mention a couple of cold brews (we’ll let you guess what kind).

Ritenour shared an inside look at the well-known Bud Light campaign and “Dilly Dilly” phrase, delving into all of the ins and outs of what it took to make these adverts resonate so positively with a national audience.

But, creating a successful campaign wasn’t just about getting ahead of the competition or being considered the preferred brand. Ritenour also reiterated the impact and power of earned media and social influence, not just power within a single agency or organization.

“The best thing that we did when ‘Dilly Dilly’ took off was let people make it their own. All of this was born out of social listening,” explained Ritenour.

Bud Light seized the opportunity to expand from a local level to a national platform, which leveraged them as an influencer in their market. Having initially aimed at a niche audience, Bud Light broadened their scope to what could be accomplished on a larger scale.

In a short happy hour, Ritenour imparted insight and experience to keep in mind as we influence the market and create impactful change for our audiences.

Marketing Guidelines

  1. Don’t activate just to activate
    If we’re aimlessly throwing things into the marketplace of ideas without concrete research and purpose, we will not see the result we set out to get. Point blank.
  2. There must be a natural tie-in
    It’s about relationship and relatability. Get into the lives of your audiences and clients for the purpose of sending intentional and natural messaging.
  3. Overly manufactured = pit of misery
    Overworking and overcomplicating a project when it could be kept simple, understandable and relatable is dangerous grounds.

Key Takeaways

  1. Be people first, not consumer first
    We never want to label or assume whomever may be receiving our messages. Rather, we want to maintain a personalized channel and attend to the specific needs and wants of our audiences as to not look at them as simply a recipient of our product.
  2. Be a partner to your partners
    As Ritenour explained, Bud Light allowed the audience to have the reigns and make the campaign their own. It’s time to link arms with our clients and audiences in order to stay on a level of compatibility and partnership.
  3. Be ready for anything, at anytime
    Ritenour openly expressed the times of difficulty in balancing personal life and work life amid the busyness of this project. He faced the fact that work will demand your time and energy, so be ready for it – find balance and pursue work you can be passionate about and find fulfillment in.
  4. Shut up and learn
    To put it frankly, you don’t know everything. Each of us are talented and gifted in different areas, but the only true way to continue success is to listen and learn from those around you.

As creators and innovators, we are working to channel into inspiration and create lasting impact in the market. We work to build and encourage each other in the direction of productivity and passion, which is what fueled Ritenour’s conversation regarding the Bud Light Dilly Dilly campaign that swept across the country. Once we embrace the power and influence of public engagement, we have can have a greater impact on our audiences, clients and society than we may ever realize.

A special thanks to Miles Ritenour, Brunner and all of the attendees for making this event a success! We wholeheartedly appreciate the team effort, words of wisdom and dedication to this organization and hope to see everyone at April’s Off the Clock event at Sienna Mercato.

Top Five Learnings from Ragan Disney

Written By: Deanna Tomaselli

On March 6-8, 2019, I attended the Social Media Conference for PR, Marketing and Corporate Communications at Disney World, presented by Ragan Communications. Over three days of engaging sessions, we learned what’s next in social for communicators. Not to mention, we got to party at Disney’s Yacht Club beach with the man himself, Mickey Mouse! The following are my top five learnings.

One: Content is Everything

As my colleagues at Red Agency in Australia say, social media should never be a side dish; it’s a staple ingredient. Especially today with more competition than ever in the newsfeed.

Each session at Ragan Disney had one common theme: Make amazing content. Tell stories. And make those stories human-centric and appealing. Oh and for the sake of our newsfeeds, only post when you have something worthwhile to show or tell.

Speaking of show, video content reigned supreme. According to Brenden Lee from Twitter, there are 1.2 billion total global video views on Twitter each and every day, and 87 percent of marketers have a positive ROI with digital video. A few of his best practices using video:

  • Be short: 15 seconds or less
  • What’s your hook? Including a story arc means video is 58 percent more likely to be viewed
  • Speak without sound: Captioning your video will drive views and completion
  • Feature people early on – people like to see people
  • Be topical – talk about things that are happening

Two: It’s all about your audience (it’s never been about you)

My favorite way to simplify social media is the cocktail party example. You wouldn’t go to a party and start shouting about yourself to the people there. They’d probably have you escorted out. Rather, you talk with other guests. You know what they say, people love to talk about themselves.

Jimmy Bennett from Wendy’s stole the show as keynote speaker and something he said really resonated: “What is my social purpose?” should not be the right first question to ask. The question should be, “Why are consumers on this platform? And what do they want to get out of social media?”

Gone are the days of “positive, negative or neutral” sentiment to posts. Software is getting smarter and we should really be actively listening to what people are saying. And not just about our brands. The Wendy’s team meet weekly to discuss memes and trends, what they are talking about, what other brands are talking about, and what people in general are talking about. And instead of a blanketed corporate social response, if you can have a little fun, click over to a person’s social channel to see their interests before responding to them as your brand. Nate Sandell’s Mall of America team does this too and their audience truly feels valued after the brand takes a few seconds to make their answer personalized. A little goes a long way.

Three: It’s (still) all about a good pitch

No matter the changing technology and evolving social channels, for PR pros, a good pitch is still a good pitch.
Natan Edelsburg from Muckrack suggested to rethink your press release by adding video to your pitch. (There’s video again!) Here are four reasons why to create a 30-second video pitch:

  1. TL;DR: Offer the reporter an option to skip text and watch video
  2. Incorporate a visual version of your pitch
  3. Contains a CTA and encourages the reporter to keep reading your email
  4. It hits multiple senses

As a daily Good Morning America viewer, I was also excited to see Terry Hurlbutt, VP of digital, give her two-cents when it comes to pitching. She suggests you ask yourself, “Why should a regular person care?” before pitching her team. Then answer how you are going to 1) teach their audience something new and/or 2) give them a tip. For GMA (and other consumer broadcast outlets), if you can positively impact a wide, consumer audience and make the journalist’s job easy, then you’ve delivered a solid pitch.

Four: Invasion of the Influencers

It’s no surprise that influencers came up in just about every session. But Matt Silverman from the Daily Dot said something interesting: influencers have “parasocial” relationships – it’s a psychological term that audiences feel like they “know” creators on a personal level, and that breeds extreme loyalty. I’m guilty of it as a consumer. I follow some influencers that I feel like I’ve gotten to “know” over the years and I genuinely trust what they say. I’m no dummy and know when things are sponsored, but I also know when they are being genuine. But even they are getting oversaturated with their #sponsored after #sponsored post. Enter: micro and nanoinfluencers.

Microinfluencers, with smaller audience bases, and nanoinfluencers, with as little as 1,000 followers, are gaining popularity. According to a New York Times article from last fall, “their lack of fame is one of the qualities that make them approachable” and “their word seems as genuine as advice from a friend.” When I speak with my clients about influencers, they usually ask if we are going to pay them. From speakers at Ragan Disney, everyone agreed to work with a variety of influencers – from mega to nano, paid and unpaid, depending on your budget. This way, you can track lead quality to see what’s working and what’s not. And always disclose when it’s sponsored. After all, you don’t want to get “Fyred.”

Five: Data, data, data

Not surprisingly, data was a commonality at Ragan Disney. Besides Wendy’s, my other favorite session was actually from one of Ragan Disney’s sponsors: TrendKite. Sarah Parker spoke, and she noted that data can (and should) inform your entire strategy. This includes owned media analysis and social listening, brand monitoring, campaign tracking, industry keywords, crisis management and research.

How can you measure your social content success?

  • Mentions: Top-level brand awareness
  • Share of voice: Competitive and industry benchmarking
  • Reach: Audience size
  • Engagement: Message interest
  • Amplification: Message spread
  • Conversions: Action

How do you not measure your success? Followers. They are a vanity metric and basically mean nothing. It’s 2019, not 2009, people!

What is still true today as it was in 2009 though, is that social is what you make of it. Staying on top of trends, putting out meaningful content, interacting with your audience and constantly evaluating the results (and tweaking your plan based on those results) will get you far in 2009, 2019, 2029 and beyond. And just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Check out more conference highlights on Twitter and under the Instagram highlight “Guest Takeovers.”

Deanna Tomaselli
Deanna Tomaselli is an account supervisor at Havas PR and an active member of the PRSA Pittsburgh board. She shares industry insights, career learnings, and life in the ‘burgh at

International Women’s Day – Equality is Everyone’s Fight

By: Ashley Jones

As PR and communications professionals, we find ourselves in a unique position. Our careers are quite literally revolved around creating narratives and championing positive messaging. Today, we’re channeling our power to share the importance of female mentorship, female empowerment and the need for female voices, opinions and perspectives.


It’s a term individuals are often torn by. It’s negatively connotated far too often, falsely believed to be based on spreading a female-only agenda not inclusive of our male counterparts but against them.

In her 2014 UN speech, Emma Watson eloquently clarified the meaning, stating, “Feminism, by definition, is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

Despite making terrific strides in recent years toward this equality, women still earn $10,169 less per year than men in median earnings. And although both men and women believe in the need for females in leadership positions, 66 percent believe that there still is an inadequate representation of women in leadership roles in their organization.

I can personally say I struggled for a long time in terms of considering myself a feminist. I was ignorant to the global issues. I grew up in a loving, accepting environment where my mother was the breadwinner, my father was the “maternal” parent who took care of cooking and cleaning, my brother had a sense of fashion that I could never dream of imitating and I was always a “tomboy.” I was never silenced, both of my parents equally built my confidence and challenged me to do my best. I was never told I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. So how was gender inequality a problem? How was it my problem if I wasn’t directly affected?

Attending Carlow University, a dominantly female college, I soon realized that my upbringing was incredibly lucky and, unfortunately, not every female’s norm. Women are globally still in a constant battle for equality in the workplace, equality in compensation and the rights to their own bodies. I realized that being a feminist meant I didn’t agree with or support these disparities. Being a feminist meant I was thinking outside of myself. It meant being the voice for the women who don’t have one.

Female Support and Mentorship

As we continue to move forward in our careers, we commemorate the women who have built us up and driven us forward with their wisdom and support.

“If I didn’t have mentors I would not be where I am today. They paved the way for me to raise my standards and achieve my ambitions along with confidence and support. Having a mentorship is special; they give you advice and wisdom you wouldn’t get anywhere else.” – Kristen Hammett

“Women have not only begun to find their place but have risen above the stigmas and changed history. We are leading and breaking through and bringing so much to the table – working in respect of the women who went before us, who were not enabled the capabilities and voice we have today. From women of difference races and ethnicities who would normally not be permitted to show their strengths and opinions, to women being those in authority to make the call, we are shining through now, more than ever.” – Jesse Serra

“I’m a firm believer that empowered women empower women. I’m incredibly grateful to the female leaders in my life who took—and still take—the time, energy and commitment to help me grow both personally and professionally. And it’s up to all of us to continue to create that kind of impact for women everywhere.” – Catherine Clements

“When I was four years old, I befriended my next-door neighbor, Bree, who became like an older sister to me. She taught me everything — how to tie my shoes, how to write cursive, how to play the flute, how to tumble (for cheerleading and gymnastics). She had many talents, including being a straight-A student with career aspirations to become an engineer (which she achieved)! She inspired me to be the best I could be at school, in cheerleading and gymnastics and overall as a person. I believe because of her influence it motivated me to be a hard worker (and a perfectionist) — some qualities that PR professionals need to succeed.” – Robin Rectenwald

“After 15+ years in PR, I’ve worked with a lot of women, many of whom were not only extraordinarily talented, but also extraordinarily patient…with me. Jacque Myers taught me that women face struggles in the workplace that I had never previously considered. Tracy Freedman showed me the value of having a woman’s perspective in the work that I do. Christiana Basso taught me how much differently women are often treated by their colleagues. Meredith Klein taught me how much words can mean and the impact they can have on the women around me, even if no one explicitly says it to me (she always did). And there are so so so many other women I’m thankful for having met and worked with and became friends with who have all impacted my life in some amazingly positive ways. And of course, my wife, Jamie, has always been there to remind me to listen to these amazing women (and to her) because without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”  Steve Radick 

“I have always been blessed to have strong women surrounding me my entire life. From my mother and sister, to the friends and various women I have worked with who have shown me that women are as much a force in the workplace as men. Because of these strong influences, I have felt empowered to be the very best I can be in my field throughout my entire career. For these women, I am eternally grateful.”  Camille Downing

“The connections I have with women who are 10, 15, 30 years into their careers have been pivotal to me during my 20s — moreso than I could have expected. Seeing and observing these women making the moves I want to make (or don’t want to make) has helped me look critically at my own decisions and assures me I’m not the first one working through the evolving challenges women encounter with social dynamics and work/life/health balance. My female mentors have pushed me — not just through telling, but showing — to recognize my strengths, build from my weaknesses, and work towards being a smarter, more well-rounded navigator of my own life and career.” – Kaili Doud

Thank you to the strong women who fought before us and the strong women today who are continuing the fight.

A Message from the 2019 PRSA Pittsburgh President


Hello there! Ben Butler, APR here — your 2019 PRSA Pittsburgh President. For those of you that I haven’t met — it’s nice to e-meet you.

The 2019 board has finalized our Strategic Plan for the year. Unlike most strategic plans, it’s concise and to the point.

I wanted to take a moment to guide you through at a high-level and share what we’re looking forward to accomplishing this year.

So pull open this PDF and follow along.

Page 1: All Types of Background

The main message from Page 1 is that we’re not just some isolated, local organization. We’re a Chapter of the Public Relation Society of America (PRSA), which is a 21,000 member organization with Chapters from sea to shining sea.

PRSA is broken up into Districts (check them all out here), and we’re in the East Central District alongside 17 other Chapters from Michigan to here in Pennsylvania to West Virginia … Mountain Mamaaaaaaaaaaa.

Be sure to consider attending PRSA National events — like PRSA International Conference — as a supplement to what you’re doing locally.

Page 2: Our Two Goals for 2019

Part 1: Emphasize Our Two Biggest Events of the Year
In the last five years, we’ve recognized the growing impact of our two biggest events of the year — Renaissance Awards and PR Summit (formerly Professional Development Day). They’ve raised our profile as an organization and have engaged an incredible amount of members and practitioners in our area.

This year, we’re looking to not just continue the legacy, but continue growing these events. Not just now, but for the foreseeable future. Here’s how:

  • Negotiating recurring venues. We’ve started that with Renaissance and we hope to continue it with PR Summit. This means better rates and budgets, as well as continuing recognition.
  • Promoting both events earlier, and more often. That means calling for Renaissance Awards sooner.
  • Streamlining all other programming, so we can keep our eyes on the ball. We’ve already unveiled a fun and regular happy hour series happening every month.

Part 2: Build Our Community Amongst Members and Pittsburgh
“Community” tends to be a vague, all-encompassing term, but we have our definition down-pat.

We’ll be:

And also, be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to keep in the loop.

Page 3: Give Us a Shout If You Have Any Questions

This is a volunteer organization, and we spend our spare time (and sometimes lack thereof) to empower you, the coming generations, and the profession. Your success is our success.

If there’s anything we can do to help you out, or things you think we can do better, please don’t be shy.

Let’s enjoy all the great things we’re up to as a city, as a Chapter, and as an industry.

Here’s to a great year!



About Ben Butler, APR
Ben Butler, APR, is the founder and client services director for Top Hat—an award-winning marketing communications firm in Pittsburgh.

He’s been named a Top Under 40 Communicator, Pittsburgh Business Times 30 Under 30, North Allegheny Under 40 Distinguished Alumni, PR Entrepreneur of the Year, one of Spin Sucks 10 PR Professionals to Follow and am Accredited in Public Relations (APR)—a distinction held by less than 20-percent of all practitioners.

PR – The Love Affair Between Storytelling and Discretion

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

By: Ashley Jones

Storytelling & Discretion – A Love Story

Romeo and Juliet. Catherine and Heathcliff. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. They all have one thing in common in the world of fiction: they’re epic romances. The equivalent in the PR realm? The star-crossed love of storytelling and discretion.

As PR professionals we’re required to channel our brains’ right hemispheres and deliver creative messaging, concepts, and narratives that resonate with diverse audiences while simultaneously evaluating the potential nuances of responses to campaigns and company news or updates. It’s a delicate balance.

To avoid negative backlash, a PR professional may err on the side of caution at the sacrifice of ingenuity. A good PR professional may weigh multiple tiered options within or just outside of a client’s comfort zone (the “well, we put it out there” mentality). But a great PR professional challenges complacency with compelling ideas that are still authentic to a brand, their goals and their audience.

Think About It

Imagine a world where State Street Global Advisors’ “Fearless Girl” didn’t stand tall and strong? Or where Nike’s “Dream Crazy” campaign didn’t include Colin Kaepernick? There was probably hesitancy at first, options needed to be weighed. Without a doubt the board rooms were abound with devil’s advocates and a profusion of questions:

“Will there be criticism of the statue being a girl and not a woman?”
“Will the juxtaposition with the Charging Bull be understood or viewed as exploitive?”
“What are the potential risks of associating our brand with an individual with such polarizing critics?”
“How can our association with Kaepernick affect sales and current business affiliations?”

While the best laid plans of mice and men can often go awry, it’s these discretionary Q&As that lead to the most effective storytelling with the best results. In these brainstorms it’s realized that to achieve A, we must do B and C and to avoid D, we must do E and F. Discretion isn’t about scratching an idea or completely restructuring it until it’s something different entirely, discretion is the constructive feedback necessary to align unconventional ideas into a digestible, appealing narrative.

Take Pepsi’s ad featuring Kendall Jenner for example. An attempt to insert themselves positively into a global discussion gone horribly wrong. Without the right amount of discretion in their execution, they trivialized an entire movement in seconds. On the flipside, they may have taken discretion a step too far (possibly after their previously mentioned blunder) as their recent “Is Pepsi Ok?” ad fell flat despite an all-star cast. Then, boom! They finally nailed it with their Pepsi rewind ad (with the exception of the Kendall Jenner ad, of course) with brilliant reminiscing, fun and a focus on what’s made them iconic without being narcissistic.

The Takeaway

Storytelling without some degree of discretion? Crazy first (and last) date.
Storytelling with too much discretion? Lukewarm feelings.
But that magic balance between storytelling and discretion? Unconditional love.

2019 PRSA Pittsburgh Renaissance Award Winners: The Complete List

On Thursday, January 31, more than 200 of Pittsburgh’s most talented communicators gathered together at the 2019 Renaissance Awards held at the Senator John Heinz History Center.

The annual ceremony — which honors the best of the region’s communications campaigns, tactics and individual practitioners — was moderated by Nicole Paxinos, PensTV host and master of ceremonies.

This year PRSA Pittsburgh distributed more than 50 honors to organizations — ranging from agencies and corporations to hospitals and nonprofits, including Westinghouse, Allegheny Health Network, UPMC Health Plan, Iron City Beer, Seton Hill University, Bank of America, Home Depot and more.

PRSA Pittsburgh thanks its generous sponsors: Havas PR, Burson Cohn & Wolfe, EM-Media, and Point Park University.

Awards and Judging

Top entries received a “Renaissance Award” distinction and runners-up received an “Award of Merit.” Several categories had multiple winners, depending on the numeric scores provided by the judges.

  • Entries were independently evaluated by a panel of judges from the Public Relations Association of Mississippi and scored upon impact.

See the complete list of winners below. 

2019 PRSA Pittsburgh Renaissance Award Winners

Individual Awards

  • PRSA Rising Star Award – Jordan Mitrik, Brunner
  • PR Entrepreneur of the Year – Aaron Easler, Top Hat
  • PR Disruption Award – Iron City Beer
  • PRSA Member of the Year – Deanna Tomaselli, Havas PR
  • Communicator of the Year – Brian Ludwick, Bank of America
  • Bob O’Gara Student Scholar – Morgan McCoy, Point Park University
  • PRSSA Chapter of the Year – Waynesburg University PRSSA
  • Hall of Fame Award – Courtney Myers, Havas PR
  • PR Team of the Year- Allegheny Health Network Public Relations Team
  • Best in Show – Gatesman, Instilling Prestige in Michigan Ross Through the First-Ever MBA Summit


B2B Campaign

  • Renaissance Awards
    • Havas PR, Adapting to Younger Eyes
    • Havas PR, Transitions PRO Instagram Launch
    • Havas PR, Transitions Style Colors and Style Mirrors Product Launch
    • WordWrite Communications, McClintock & Associates’ StoryCrafting & Brand Relaunch
  • Award of Merit
    • Pipitone Group, Meti-Span Building Barriers Advertising Campaign

Content Marketing Campaign

  • Renaissance Awards
    • Brunner, The Home Depot Rental Brand Launch
    • Top Hat, Iron Restoration: The Comeback of Iron City Beer

Crisis Communications

  • Renaissance Award
    • WordWrite Communications, YMCA CPR Plan

Digital Campaign

  • Awards of Merit
    • Pipitone Group, ACAA “Real” Campaign
    • Top Hat, Iron Restoration: The Comeback of Iron City Beer


  • Renaissance Awards
    • Gatesman, Instilling Prestige in Michigan Ross Through the First-Ever MBA Summit
    • Burson Cohn & Wolfe, There’s a New Bank in Town: Bank of America’s Retail Entrance
    • Pipitone Group, Jumbo Coater Grand Opening Campaign
  • Awards of Merit
    • Burson Cohn & Wolfe, Bank of America Suits Up at The Big Game
    • Field General, Coffee with Valerie
    • Seton Hill University, Seton Hill University Centennial Campaign

Influencer Relations

  • Renaissance Awards
    • Burson Cohn & Wolfe, Automation for All: Leviton’s Decora Smart Solutions Shines Bright with Help from Influencers
    • Brunner, FY18 Musselman’s and Lucky Leaf Influencer Programs
    • Havas PR, Adapting to Younger Eyes
    • Top Hat, Iron Restoration: The Comeback of Iron City Beer

Integrated Marketing Campaign

  • Renaissance Awards
    • Brunner, The Home Depot Rental Brand Launch
    • Gatesman, Driving Positive Brand Perception for Duquesne Light Company
    • Top Hat, Iron Restoration: The Comeback of Iron City Beer
    • UPMC Health Plan, UPMC Health Plan Emergency Department Diversion Marketing
    • UPMC Health Plan, UPMC Preventive Screenings Marketing Campaign
  • Awards of Merit
    • MarketSpace Communications, “Meet The Georges” Campaign
    • Jam X Creative, Pittsburgh Pickles Primanti’s Love Media Relations

Internal Communications

  • Awards of Merit
    • Gatesman, Launching a New Brand for a 154-year-old company
    • Westinghouse Electric Company, Servant Leadership at Westinghouse

Media Relations

  • Renaissance Awards
    • DDI, Global Leadership Forecast 2018
    • Havas PR, Curiosity CubeTM Ignites Scientific Passion
    • Havas PR, Driving Buzz for Scene75’s Pittsburgh Opening
    • Havas PR, Turn the Page for “Unshattered”
  • Awards of Merit
    • Burson Cohn & Wolfe, Making It Happen: Sustaining Leviton’s Position As A Tech Innovator Through Media Relations
    • Burson Cohn & Wolfe, Breaking Down Self-Driving Car Misconceptions One Rider at a Time
    • Blender, Inc., Putting down roots to help our region grow
    • Gatesman, Activating National Media Relations to Position Northwell Fertility
    • Havas PR, Make Room for Recess

New Products & Services Communications

  • Renaissance Awards
    • Burson Cohn & Wolfe, Meet Erica: Bank of America’s AI-Driven Virtual Financial Assistant
    • Havas PR, Transitions Style Colors & Style Mirrors Product Launch
    • Top Hat, Iron Restoration: The Comeback of Iron City Beer
  • Award of Merit
    • Pipitone Group, Acuity Low-Iron Glass Product Launch Campaign

Reputation Management

  • Renaissance Awards
    • Burson Cohn & Wolfe, Closing an Historic Pittsburgh Factory with Dignity
    • Havas PR, Curiosity CubeTM Ignites Scientific Passion
    • Burson Cohn & Wolfe, There’s a New Bank in Town: Bank of America’s Retail Entrance into the Pittsburgh Market
    • Top Hat, Iron Restoration: The Comeback of Iron City Beer
  • Awards of Merit
    • Allegheny County Airport Authority, The State of PIT Airport
    • Pipitone Group, “Know the Code” Campaign

Social Media Campaign

  • Renaissance Awards
    • Havas PR, Transitions PRO Instagram Launch
    • Top Hat, Iron Restoration: the Comeback of Iron City Beer
  • Award of Merit
    • UPMC Health Plan, UPMC AnywhereCare Thermometer Giveaway Campaign


Annual Report

  • Award of Merit
    • Allegheny County Airport Authority, 2017 Annual Report: Transforming Pittsburgh’s Airports

Multimedia Content

  • Renaissance Awards
    • Top Hat, Iron & Coal (Photography)
    • Top Hat, It’s Different, Like Always (Video)
    • Top Hat, Make it Pittsburgh-er (Video)
    • Top Hat, We Were There (Video)

Promotional Content

  • Award of Merit
    • MarketSpace Communications, Fiesta Website

Written Content

  • Renaissance Award
    • Havas PR, Transitions Style Collection Guide
  • Awards of Merit
    • MarketSpace Communications, Brewery Guide Website
    • Allegheny County Airport Authority, Why We Love Mister Rogers . . . But Aren’t Naming Pittsburgh International Airport After Him
    • Top Hat, What’s Old is Cool Again: Harnessing Nostalgia to Build Hype

He Should be Fired! She Should be Fired! Everyone Should be Fired!

By: Steve Radick

Yesterday, KDKA fired Michael Telek, one of their producers, for creating this graphic. Had this been created thirty years ago, most people wouldn’t have even noticed, and the ones who did would chuckle, look at the person next to them and say, “did you see that?” and then moved on with their day.

Today, that graphic gets screengrabbed and shared around the world. It gets turned into memes and GIFs. It gets added to news aggregators and newsfeeds. It even becomes a topic on other programs too (ESPN is an expert at this). And with every post, share, and comment, the worst parts of the Internet become more visible, more vocal, and more emboldened.

The pitchfork-carrying social media users come out in full force.

“Whoever created that should be fired!!”
“I’m never watching that channel again!”
“This is incredibly offensive – hope your station goes bankrupt!”
“I hope your dog dies and you get run over by a truck!” (things tend to escalate quickly on the Internet) 

As the hyperbolic speech escalates, brands feel like they’re held hostage. So they respond, lest a social media boycott picks up momentum. Unfortunately, all too often, this response consists of giving in to the demands of the social media mob and firing the individual. #boycott is avoided. The conversation goes away. And the mob moves on to their next source of outrage. Situation defused right? Except, well, for the guy who no longer has a job because of a choice he made that was no worse than dozens of others I’ve made throughout my career. I was just lucky enough to not have them go globally viral.


That’s why we’ve invited Michael to attend our Renaissance Awards ceremony tonight so that he can network with other members of this city’s PR and communications community.

While every organization is free to make their own employment decisions, we lament the fact that Internet trolls turns every indiscretion and mistake into a fireable offense. And that brands and organizations lack the conviction to not give in to the very vocal, very minority subset of the population that wants nothing more than to ruin someone’s life for a minor lapse in judgment. We welcome Michael to our community because we’ve all made decisions in our job we’d like to take back. Luckily, we had colleagues, mentors, and bosses who helped us learn from those mistakes and we’re better for it. Seems like a better solution than letting the worst parts of the Internet decide who does and who doesn’t have a job the next day.

Here at PRSA Pittsburgh, we want to be that supportive community, not only for people like Michael, but for all 200 of our members.